- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Mulholland Books; 1 edition (March 27, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316188433
- ISBN-13: 978-0316188432
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 117 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,471,590 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Edge of Dark Water Hardcover – March 27, 2012
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"A cast of unforgettable characters....a terrific read. From its pages waft memories of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill A Mockingbird, and even As I Lay Dying with its journey to lay a soul to rest. When I reached the final page, something happened that I can't remember ever happening with a book I've read for a review. I wanted to read it again."―Boston Globe
"A charming Gothic tale...as funny and frightening as anything that could have been dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm--or Mark Twain."―New York Times Book Review
"Reading Joe Lansdale is like listening to a favorite uncle who just happens to be a fabulous storyteller. This book deals with dark and strange material, but it is hugely appealing as narrated in the first person by young Sue Ellen, who shines."―Dean Koontz
"A doozy of a read, the kind of book we call an 'all nighter'...It's that kind of great, and it's pure-blood Lansdale, crammed to bursting with plot twists that recall the snaky bends of the Sabine River...This sucker moves...It's our favorite book of the year so far, and one of Lansdale's best, ever."―Austin Chronicle
"The strongest, truest, and most pitch-perfect narration since Huck Finn's. Marvelous and terrifying, EDGE OF DARK WATER is the result of real genius at work. A masterpiece."―Dan Simmons, author of The Terror and Drood
"An ambitious, quietly grieving portrait of racism in Texas in the 1930s."―New York Times
"For those new to Lansdale's work, this novel will serve as a good intro: entertaining, eerie and soaked with the East Texas period atmosphere Lansdale owns like no other writer....Along the river chase, readers will pick up on nods to homer, Dickey, Twain and others, but the brooding East Texas atmosphere is all Lansdale: the specter of Skunk is like something out of a horror movie; man and nature both provide plenty of thrills and chills; the mystery of who killed May Lynn is given just enough attention; and Sue Ellen's precocious teen wisdom and bumpkin delivery provides the laughs....Joe R. Lansdale could fall into the Sabine River at its filthiest point and still come up dripping nothing but storytelling mojo."―The Dallas Morning News
"EDGE OF DARK WATER describes a trip downriver that is one-half Huck Finn, one-half Deliverance, and entirely Joe Lansdale. If you aren't familiar with the work of this true American original, and master of hillbilly noir, climb in the boat and hang on for dear life: the water is rough."―Joe Hill, author of the New York Times bestsellers Horns and Heart-Shaped Box
"Joe Lansdale has long been one of our finest and most difficult to classify writers. You can call his writing supernatural, horror, crime, or plain Southern, as long as you remember to call it great. Always a generous storyteller, in EDGE OF DARK WATER he offers a beautifully spun tale of life in the sticks, friendship and mortality, and tells it with the wit, humor and pure-dee power we've come to expect of him."―Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter's Bone
"Nonstop adventures that edify, terrify and deepen the bond between Sue Ellen and Jinx. A highly entertaining tour de force."―Kirkus Reviews
From the Back Cover
May Lynn didn't have a mama anymore, cause her mama had drowned herself in the Sabine River. She had gone down with some laundry to soak, and instead wrapped a shirt around her head and walked in until the water went over her. When she came up, she wasn't alive anymore, but she still had that shirt around her noggin.
May Lynn's daddy was someone who only came home when he got tired of being any other place. We didn't even know if he knew his daughter was missing. May Lynn used to say after her mama drowned herself her daddy was never the same. Said she figured it was because the laundry around her mother's head had been his favorite snap-pocket shirt. That's true love for you. Worse, her brother, Jake, who she was close to, was dead as of a short time back, and there wasn't even a family dog to miss her.
The day after we found her, May Lynn was boxed up in a cheap coffin and buried on a warm morning in the pauper section of the Marvel Creek Cemetery next to a dried patch of weeds with seed ticks clinging to them, and I suspect some chiggers too small to see. Her mother and brother were buried in the same graveyard, but they hadn't ended up next to one another. Up the hill was where the people with money lay. Down here was the free dirt, and even if you was kin to someone, you got scattered--you went in anyplace where there was room to dig a hole. I'd heard there was many a grave on top of another, for need of space.
The constable ruled on matters by saying she had been killed by a person or persons unknown, which was something I could have figured out for him. He said it was most likely a drifter or drifters who had come upon her by the river. I guess they had been carrying a sewing machine under their arm.
He didn't make any effort to search out her murderer or find out why she was down there. For that matter, there wasn't even a doctor or nobody that looked at her to be sure exactly how she was killed or if she had been fooled with. Nobody cared but me and Terry and Jinx.
The service was conducted by a local preacher. He said a few words that might have sounded just as insincere if they had they been spoken over the body of a distant cousin's pet mouse that had died of old age.
When he was through talking, a couple of colored men put the plain box down in the ground using ropes, then started shoveling dirt in the hole. Outside of the colored men, and the preacher and the seed ticks, we had been the only ones at the funeral, if you could call it that.
"You'd think they was just taking out the trash, way that preacher hurried up," Jinx said, after they left.
"Way they saw it," I said, "that was exactly what they was doing. Taking out the trash."
Jinx was my age. She had her hair tied in pigtails that stood out from her head like plaited ropes of wire. She had a sweet face, but her eyes seemed older, like she was someone's ancient grandma stuffed inside a kid. She wore a dyed blue flour-sack dress that had some of the old print faintly poking through, and she was barefoot. Terry had on some new shoes, and he had gotten from somewhere a man's black tie. It was tied in a big knot and pulled up tight to his neck, making him look like a bag that had been knotted near the top. He had enough oil in his black hair to grease a truck axle, and it still wasn't quite enough to hold his wild mane down. His face was dark from the sun, and his blue eyes were shiny as chunks of the sky. None of us was happy with what had happened, but he was taking it especially hard; his eyes were red from crying.
"No one will make a concerted effort to discover what happened to her," Terry said. "I think a search for the truth is out of the question."
I loved to hear Terry talk, because he didn't sound like no one else I knew. He hadn't dropped out of school like me, as I was having problems with it being so far and no way to get there and I didn't like it much anyhow. My mother, who was pretty good educated, didn't like that I had quit, but she didn't get out of bed to make much of a complaint against it; that might have required her putting on her shoes.
Terry liked school. Even the math part. His mother had been a schoolteacher and gave him extra learning. His father had died when he was young, and as of recent his mother had taken up with and married an oilman named Harold Webber. Terry didn't get along with him even a little bit. Webber made Terry's mother quit teaching school to be home with the kids, and then she started a seamstress business, but he made her kill that, too, and toss out all her goods, because he believed a husband took care of his wife and she shouldn't work, even if she liked the work she did. In the end it was all about the same anyhow, as jobs, especially for women, had become as rare as baptized rattlesnakes.
Since that marriage, Terry had a look in his eye like a rabbit that was about to run fast and far.
Jinx could read and write and cipher some, same as me, but she hadn't learned it in school. Coloreds didn't have a school in our parts, and she had been taught by her daddy, who had gone up north to work for a while and learned to read there. He said it was better in the north for coloreds in some ways because people acted like they liked you, even if they didn't. But he come back because he missed his family and being in the South, since he knew right off who the sons of bitches was; there wasn't as much guesswork involved in figuring who was who.
But when times got bad, that didn't keep him from heading north again. He hated to do it, he told Jinx, and meant it, but he had to go up there and make some money and mail it back to her and her mother.
None of us was happy in East Texas. We all wanted out, but seemed stuck to our spots like rooted trees. When I thought about getting out I couldn't imagine much beyond the wetlands and the woods. Except for Hollywood. I could imagine that on account of May Lynn talking about it all the time. She made it sound pretty good, even though she had never been there.
With her dead, a lot of hopes I had were gone. I always figured May Lynn just might go off to Hollywood and be a movie star, and then she'd come home and take us back with her. I never could figure why she would do that, or what we might do out there, but it beat thinking I was just gonna grow up and marry some fellow with tobacco in his cheek and whiskey on his breath who would beat me at least once a week and maybe make me keep my hair up.
None of this kind of thinking mattered, though, because May Lynn didn't become a star. Truth was, as of late, we hadn't known her very well ourselves. By the time she showed up in the water wired to that Singer sewing machine, I reckon I hadn't seen her for a month. I figured it was similar for Terry and Jinx.
Jinx said she thought May Lynn had come of the age to think hanging with colored kids might not lead to stardom. Jinx said she didn't hold it against her, but I had doubts about that. Jinx could hold a grudge.
As to what happened to May Lynn, I had ideas about that. Nobody loved a picture show the way she did, and she'd hitch a ride with anyone if they'd get her into town on Saturdays to catch a show. Men were always quick to pick her up. Me, I'd have had to lay down in the middle of the road and play dead to have them stop, and even then they might have run over me, same as they would a dead possum. Could be May Lynn got a ride with the wrong person; an angry Singer sewing machine salesman. It was a stretch, but I figured it was better detective work than Constable Higgins had done.
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What's the Edge of Dark Water about?
Joe Hill (author of Horns and The Heart-Shaped Box) called it a cross between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Deliverance. He wasn't far wrong on that brief description.
When Mae Lyn, the prettiest girl in the county, is found dead in the Sabine River with a Singer sewing machine tied around her ankles, her three closest friends--maybe her only friends--decide to dig up her body, burn it, and take the ashes to Hollywood. This is where Mae Lyn always dreamed of going, hoping she would one day become famous. Her friends--Sue Ellen, Jinx and Terry--all have their different personalities. Sue Ellen, though pretty, is basically a tomboy. Jinx is black and isn't afraid to speak her mind, even if it gets her into trouble. Remember, this is taking place during the Great Depression. Terry is a handsome young fellow, but everybody considers him to be a sissy. In the South, during the Depression, being a sissy is considered worse than being black. Still, these kids love each other as close friends do, even if they sometimes get on each other's nerves.
Now, if each of these kids came from a great, loving home or had something to look forward to in their life, the idea of taking Mae Lyn's ashes to California wouldn't have grown wings and taken flight so quickly. All of them have little reason to stay and everything to gain by heading out west. To add to the situation, the three kids discover a cache of hidden money stolen from a bank by Mae Lyn's dead brother. It's only a thousand dollars, but a lot of people would kill you for a lot less during this era when even ten dollars was a lot of money.
Stealing a raft, the kids make their way down the river, but with folks after them for the bank's money. No one really cares about the children, but the money is something else entirely. The Shunk, a merciless killer and a legend, is hired to track the kids down and bring back the stolen loot. The thing is Shunk loves to kill in the most hideous ways. He always chops the hands off of his victims and keeps them as souvenirs tied around his neck. The kids don't believe in him at first, but they soon will.
While the kids make their way down the river to the nearest town, they encounter all sorts of strange and death-defying adventures. It doesn't hurt that they have an unexpected travelling companion with them. In fact, it eventually proves to be a blessing as time passes by.
There's also the matter of who murdered Mae Lyn.
That question isn't stared at or mulled over much on the river trip. But when the killer is finally revealed, I think you'll be just as surprised as I was. It's not easy to surprise me anymore, but Joe Lansdale still has that solid punch to the gut that can knock the wind out of you.
Edge of Dark Water covers many themes that deal with the plight of humanity: love, hate, racism, parenting, child abuse, murder, friendship, and evil of the worse kind. Mr. Lansdale doesn't beat you over the head with it, but demonstrates how fragile life and friendship can be. The author clearly portrays life as it was during the thirties. In some ways, much hasn't changed. People are still people with their good points and their bad ones. Seldom is anything black or white, but rather shades of grey because human beings are complex creatures. Mr. Lansdale understands this and is able to give the reader an underlying view of what makes people tick. This is hard job for any writer, but Mr. Lansdale manages to do it in spades.
This is also pure storytelling at its best. Not every writer can tell a good yarn. Joe Lansdale happens to be a master at storytelling after thirty years of learning his craft. He knows how to weave a good, heart-wrenching tale, creating fully developed characters in such a way that you either love them or hate them, or maybe both at the same time. Heck, you might not even know which emotion is kicking in or being tugged on. I guarantee, however, you'll get a good look at the dark side of humanity few other authors are able to tap into. This writer creates a picture of evil as if he's gone up against it during his lifetime and barely survived.
Last, allow me to add that Joe Lansdale is an author who knows how to deliver on his promise. What do I mean? Whenever you buy a novel, the author is promising you'll get your money's worth from it. Not every author is able to keep this promise, but Joe always does. This is why I always look forward to a new book by him. It doesn't get any better than this.
Go out and get yourself a copy of Edge of Dark Water. After you finish reading it, you'll want to put it on the bookshelf beside Joe R. Lansdale's other great novels, The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Sunset and Sawdust, and the Hap/Leonard series. This is one of the top writers in the world today and if you haven't read his fiction, then shame on you. Highly recommended!
I think there must be close to 1000 reviews and blurbs already for this book, which just published on Feb. 12. Many of them are from writers and reviewers far more articulate than myself. Every blurb and comment I've read is positive, and I have to second that. Joe R. Lansdale is a Master, by any criteria. I've never forgotten his set "The Drive-In" and "The Drive-In II" and I never will. Now I will never forget "Edge of Dark Water" (and his debut novel, "The Bottoms," which I plan to read very soon). Mr. Lansdale has so recreated the structure and milieu of East Texas during the Great Depression of the 1930's, a typically Southern region, and made it so real even to those of us who didn't actually live this era, that it becomes an ongoing, perpetual, mindset.
Youngsters (actually adolescents now) May Lynn, Sue Ellen, Jinx, and Terry live a very hardscrabble, rock-bottom life. The only one of the four who has a decent parental set is Jinx, and because she is resident in the extended South, and African-American, she has her share of troubles not akin to the other three. But May Lynn, Sue Ellen, and Terry all have domestic difficulties; it is fortunate that the four do share this close and abiding friendship, and the taut nature of this bond becomes intensely apparent when Sue Ellen and Terry discover May Lynn's drowned body in the Sabine River--the river that becomes a character in and of itself, the river that will change all their lives in immense and unending ways.
"Edge of Dark Water" is an incredibly heartrending novel, but it is one I cannot imagine not reading.